Growing Thyme & Propagating by Layering

Thyme has an interesting history.  According to Wikipedia the ancient Egyptians used it in embalming, the ancient Greeks burnt it as incense, and in the middle ages it was placed beneath pillows to ward off nightmares.  Over the years herbalists have ascribed it a range of powers ranging from treating boils to dealing with tuberculosis as a result of its antiseptic qualities.  This apparent antiseptic quality comes from the presence of Thymol (the active ingredient in Listerine) in its oil and it also gives thyme its taste.  Its the flavour that I grow it for, although perhaps I should also be whipping up some mouthwash from it.  If you have a recipe then please let me know.

I use thyme in a range of dishes (particularly chicken) and most frequently when I am making stock.  One of my favourite spice mixtures – zaatar – has dried thyme as its major ingredient.

I find thyme the easiest of plants to grow.  Plant it and it will grow, seems to pretty much cover it.  I have it in partial shade and it will also thrive in full sun.  I am currently growing two types of thyme.  Pizza Thyme (it probably has another name but I’m not sure what) and Lemon Thyme.  Unfortunately my Lemon Thyme plant was swamped last year by some self seeded parsley and a horseradish plant that I underestimated the size of.  I have been encouraging this plant to layer so that it can be re sited.

 Propagating by Layering

I like layering as a propagation method – it can be both remarkably effective (with the right plant) and also very easy.  Layering involves encouraging the stem of a plant to grow roots by ensuring it is in continuous contact with the soil.  Once it has grown roots this part of the plant  can then be separated from the main plant and re-potted or moved to a new spot in the garden.  Thyme is very easily propagated via layering.

First weigh down part of the stem to ensure continuous contact with the soil – I usually help it along a bit by covering the stem with soil.  I used whatever was closest – in this case an old bamboo stake – to hold the plant in place.

Once the stem has grown roots and a decent root system has developed this part of the plant can be separated from the main plant and dug up.

The plant can then either be re-potted as one whole plant or separated into smaller sections.  I decided to break mine into three parts ensuring that each had a reasonable root system and foliage.


I re-potted into 10cm diameter herb pots filled with fertilised potting mix.  Thus 3 new plants were born from a small section of one Lemon Thyme plant.

With many thyme varieties you wont really need to help the plant with layering as they are naturally spreading.  In this case you can propagate by simply detaching a small section of the plant and potting it up.

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8 Responses to Growing Thyme & Propagating by Layering

  1. Phoebe says:

    Ohh I love thyme too! I’m growing regular thyme and variegated lemon thyme which is delicious! The regular thyme has self layered but the lemon not so. I wonder if its just a less vigorous plant?
    I remember some of the small mountainous islands in Greece covered in wild thyme and the goats gorging on it! The taste of the goat meat was amazing! Not to mention the wild mountain honey!!!
    Its such a great tough plant!

  2. Liz says:

    Hi Phoebe, I find my regular (pizza) thyme self layers but the lemon one doesn’t hence the helping hand with the stick. It didn’t seem to have much trouble with that bit of help though. I wondered if it just has a more upright natural habit? Its difficult to tell from my plant due to the aforementioned smothering…. I never got to Greece in my years in Europe – a shame as that image is really vivid – sounds perfect.

  3. Katie says:

    Oh I love thyme, love it, love it! I’m gradually planting it by my garden paths so it gets brushed against as you walk past.

  4. Wendy says:

    Great instructions on this technique! I also love thyme.

  5. vickah says:

    i started planting german thyme in southern NM at 6000 ft elevation, on a rocky soil. it seemed to get off to a good start and i watered it regularly. however in this two year period i’ve had a few plants die off, some right away, and the first one, now two years old is not growing much. I love thyme and want to get it going all around but am feeling discouraged. i was cutting the soil with an acidified compost and wonder if it was a mistake in the case of the thyme? HELP!

    • Liz says:

      My feeling is that whilst it would like the rocky soil, Thyme doesn’t like too much of either fertiliser or water so it might be that you are overdoing the TLC. I don’t know a great deal about your climate but assume you get pretty cold in winter at which time it will become dormant, having said that it should be in its growth period now so that doesn’t explain a current lack of growth. I also think the compost may be a mistake. My understanding that if anything thyme prefers slightly alkaline conditions rather than acidic, but not being familiar with ‘german thyme’ I couldn’t say for sure. Perhaps try in a pot with normal potting mix and don’t overwater it and see how it goes. Sometimes it can be as simple as being in slightly the wrong spot in the bed and is getting too much water as a result.

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